Tuesday, December 25, 2012

'Renaissance to Goya'

A new exhibition at British Museum brings together prints and drawings by Spanish and other important European artists who worked in Spain from the mid-16th to the early 19th century. Many of these works have not been on public display before.

Starting with works of art by 16th-century practitioners working in and around Madrid, the selection chronologically progresses to incorporate works from Spain’s glittering ‘Golden Age’. Turning to the next century, works by Francisco de Goya, and many of his contemporaries like Giambattista Tiepolo show how drawing and printmaking thrived during the period.

According to the Prado director in the Sixties, Francisco Sánchez Cantón, the major Spanish artistic streak or temperament tilts more towards the mesmerizing magic of color rather than the sheer discipline of drawing”. A few others have consciously contrasted the emotional, lusty realism of Spanish art with the Italian Renaissance’s idealising classicism – for, only the latter essentially relied on the meticulous intellectual pursuit of deft draughtsmanship.

The new exhibit, like the recorded evidence for stark Spanish drawings, begins in 1563 – quite long after artists like Michelangelo had given up their chalks – with a plan by Philip II to construct the spectacular El Escorial monastery-palace complex, just north-west of the Madrid city. The Spanish kingdom was still nascent, unified merely a century earlier. Philip had just recently established the city as its capital.

The various different influences on the budding Goya are cited here, to add give context to his astonishing rise. The fact remained that he possessed extraordinary imagination, humanity and vision as an artist, defying all contextualization. Still, it is fascinating to witness the progress to the ‘Disasters of War series’ (1810-15) from prints as early as ‘Blind Guitarist’ in 1778.

The show has its own peaks and troughs - lesser draughtsmen to go with the in between fine ones. At the beginning, one might have wished a deeper look at the impact the expulsion of Muslims from Spain (keen papermakers) had on the drawing in the country then. Yet, this is a very engaging display, worth watching for the works by Goya alone.

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